Remember how much mileage the right got out of Hillary Clinton’s “planted question” flap, when a college student was asked to bring up the candidate’s environment record at a campaign event? Well, it appears Rudy Giuliani has got his own Jeff Gannon–esque superfan in one Richard Florino. The Rudy volunteer (and a co-chairman of his campaign in Windham County, New Hampshire), was called upon to lob the first questions in two back-to-back stops on Giuliani’s bus tour. The first one: “What makes the liberal Democrats so wrong about the threats that this country faces?” Good one! (Or, as Rudy put it: “Very, very interesting analysis.”) The second question, a day later, was a trenchant two-parter about both Democrats’ tax policies and Romney’s flip-flopping. Florino, of course, says he’s not a plant: “Basically,” he told the Daily News, “I just love politics.” Or maybe he just hates hard questions: He is likely the same Richard Florino whose ornery letter to New Hampshire’s Nashua Telegraph shames Hillary for being tough on General Petraeus. He works a Rudy plug into that one, too.
Thing is, though, it almost doesn’t matter if Florino is a shill or not. The press corps itself is so meek, and the politicians’ answers so pat, that we don’t, strictly speaking, need audience plants. Our president didn’t hear a hardball between late 2001 and, oh, 2005, and even now, the mere aura of government authority is often enough to reduce a seasoned questioner to a Rolling Stone intern trying to get a sound bite out of Jay-Z. If you think there’s a difference between an impartial interviewer and a flack, we direct you to Katie Couric’s Hillary Clinton exclusive.